Diversity and Inclusion at CenturyLink

By A. T. Eaton

CenturyLink, a conservative southern telecommunications company based in Monroe Louisiana seems to have made a significant change in the area of diversity this year.

With the acquisition of Qwest communications in April CenturyLink has suddenly realized the value of diversity in the marketplace and amongst its greatest potential ambassadors, their employees. This is an enormous change from a company that had no prior diversity initiatives beyond its affirmative action plan requirements.

So what has changed with this southern based company that was founded in rural Louisiana in 1930 by William Clarke? Upon the closure of its most recent acquisitions of Qwest the company appointed Odell Riley to the position of VP HR & Chief Diversity Officer and created an office of Diversity and Inclusion, a position and office it never had before. Mr. Riley who has worked for the company since 1980 is one of only a few minorities to hold a senior level position in the company. When he joined the company it had roughly one thousand employees in about seven states. Today, on the heels of three major back to back acquisitions the company employees more than fifty thousand employees in forty two states.

In addition to establishing an office of Diversity and Inclusion CenturyLink also adopted the Employee Resource Groups that had been established years ago by the acquired company Qwest Communications. This is a significant shift when you consider less than two years prior when CenturyLink acquired Embarq, a company more than twice its size; it discontinued support of their Employee Resource Groups and eliminated their Office of Diversity and Inclusion. One of the positive things it did do at that time was to maintain an EEO statement that is inclusive of protection based on sexual orientation and continued the availability of domestic partnership benefits.

To cap off these most recent changes, for the first time in its history CenturyLink acknowledged and celebrated diversity with a Diversity week aimed at promoting and recognizing the importance of diversity both within its nearly fifty thousand employees and amongst their roughly twelve million customers.

While it has been slow to recognize the value of diversity in the past this is a big step forward. From an employment and competitive perspective there is still a lot they can do and we should all be watching and waiting.

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